As a writer, I spend much of my day wearing thick-framed glasses in the trendier cafés of Melbourne … serving people lattés so I can make enough money to buy the food my body has so foolishly grown dependent upon. I’d love to say there was enough cash to be made behind my laptop screen, but no, it’s behind the counter where this week's rent is to be found.
The minimum-wage life isn’t as bad as you might think. Most people mirror my smile and offer small titbits about their lives and how they’re feeling. At the end of my shift, I walk home with a renewed perception that, no matter what the news may imply, people show far more love than they do hate. I’ve been visited by many an endearing customer. Only last week I took an order from a man with Down syndrome who picks up a round of coffees for a nearby medical centre each morning. His gleeful grin is infectious and when he read the badge on my uniform and said “Trainee, well that’s a lovely name, isn’t it?”, it was all I could do not to jump the counter and give him the hug of his life.
The flipside to the people who reciprocate genuine warmth are the self-entitled. Those folk who feel their $3.50 chai latte gives them a licence to treat anyone with fewer zeros on their annual income like rubbish. They still use please and thank you, but the etiquette is thinly draped over a harsh, condescending tone. These same people add ludicrous items to their orders, marking their territory with diet long blacks or foam-free cappuccinos with extra cino. Anything they can think of to differentiate themselves from the people serving them.
They believe the glass is half full, but the milk isn’t frothy enough and it needs to be hotter, like, boiling hot, and if it’s not too much trouble, not that they care if it is, could you fetch today’s crossword and fill out all the across solutions, and do you think they’ll get that some time in the next minute? This attitude may be symptomatic of those born into wealth, but I’m not classist. Compassion is not a copyright of the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. It is human and there’s a simple way we can remind ourselves to act like it.
Everybody should work at least one crappy job.
One tedious, demeaning job that puts you on the frontline, face to face with people who treat complaining as their national sport. It shouldn’t be limited to the jobs we did straight out of high school, either. Every few years we should each have to do a compulsory week of the most fingertip-pruning, toilet-crust scrubbing, and moronic question-answering work possible. Some type of work that leaves your elbows dripping with grease, making you understand the frustration of being disregarded by high snobiety.
Many countries enforce mandatory military service in the hope a humbled citizen will be spat out of the camouflaged sausage factory. The crappy job scenario would be much the same, except, instead of leaving someone with a fetish for khaki and hospital corners, you would have some ruefully calloused feet from walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Think of it like a “Work for the Soul” scheme. A reminder that no matter how far up you are on the corporate rung, all those “little people” below that you look down upon aren’t little at all. They just seem small to you because your view has changed; don’t let your perspective do the same.
So the next time you’re ordering the caffeinated beverage that best defines your social status, picture yourself on the other side of the counter top. Be friendly to whoever is serving you and not just artificially sweet. We’re all equals.